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Shropshire Star comment: Inquiry is needed on jail failings

By Shropshire Star | Opinions | Published:

When the Chief Inspector of Prisons visited HMP Birmingham Winson Green, he was forced to retreat. The pervasive air of drugs was so overpowering that they began to take effect.

HMP Birmingham disturbance

Drugs were not the only problem at a prison housing inmates from Shropshire, the Black Country and Birmingham. There was blood, vomit, rat droppings, cockroaches and sleeping staff. Chief Inspector Peter Clarke said conditions were so bad that he feared violence could break out at any minute. Staff and inmates were petrified.

It is the right decision, therefore, for the Government to take over the jail at Winson Green. Other urgent measures include cutting the prison’s capacity and drafting in more staff.

The issue of violence is acute. The number of assaults at Winson Green has risen by about 500 per cent since 2012 – a year after G4S was awarded a contract to run it. Conditions have deteriorated significantly and things have not been put back on track since the appalling riot of 2016. Those who perpetrate violence are able to do so with near impunity.

It is time to stop the rot. G4S’s tenure at Winson Green clearly has not worked. Staff and inmates are at risk of serious injury on a daily basis. It is an unacceptable state of affairs and work must be done to bring about a safer environment.

Putting profit before safety is no way to run a prison and the Government now has 28 days to formulate a plan. It is clear that Winson Green is hell on earth and drastic action should follow.

Justice in Britain is supposed to be about three things. It is about making society safer and removing dangerous people from our streets; it is about serving punishment on those who do not uphold the law and it is also about rehabilitating offenders so that they do not commit further crimes.

HMP Birmingham Winson Green is clearly unable to uphold the third strand of that mission; it has neither the resources nor the environment to do so. Under private management it has become a lawless, fear-inducing place where prisoners run amok.

The Ministry of Justice must make the safety of prisoners and prison staff its top priority as it intervenes to restore law and order.

And it must look at how things got into such a sorry state, whether the prison is underfunded, who was responsible for failings and how they can be made accountable.

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